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Citizens warned against vigilante justice

Published: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Relatives of Ashdale Mc Hutchinson wait outside the Forensic Science Centre, St James, yesterday. Mc Hutchinson succumbed to injuries sustained during a beating by a vigilante group in Oropoune Gardens, Piarco, last week. PICTURE ANISTO ALVES

Citizens are being advised not to be judge, jury and executioner when they make a citizen’s arrest of someone they believe may be a criminal or someone with ill intent.

Experts say while citizens can arrest someone under the law and hold them while they wait for the police, vigilante justice is illegal and citizens have no legal right to beat someone whom they detain via this process.

But experts admitted yesterday that vigilante justice is being borne out of a sense of frustration that the institutions charged with protecting citizens are not doing enough, and they are urging the police to get their act together to inspire confidence from a citizenry besieged by crime.

Their comments came in the wake of the death of Ashdale Mc Hutchinson, who never regained consciousness after he was beaten by residents of Oropune Gardens, Piarco, who thought he was a child predator. Residents alleged that Mc Hutchinson tried to lure a child he did not know away from her friends but there were no reports from the police that he acted inappropriately. Doctors are reported as saying Mc Hutchinson suffered severe brain damage and would have been in a vegetated state had he survived.

Weighing in on the incident yesterday, former National Security Minister and security expert Gary Griffith admitted that vigilante justice “pops up” when communities feel law enforcement agencies are not doing what is required to protect them from the criminal element.

“This has escalated because of the lack of confidence which people have with the law enforcement officials. Persons are making decisions when they are very emotional when they are very angry and when they do that they fail to be aware of the repercussions that will follow,” he told the T&T Guardian.

However, Griffith said while a citizens’ arrest is permissible under the law, citizens “have to be very careful and ensure that what you do is within the law and that you use minimum force.”

The high crime situation and frustration being experienced by citizens, he said, makes it even more important for the “management and leadership of the Police Service to inspire trust and confidence in the public so that they do not feel the need to take the law into their own hands.”

Criminologist Professor Ramesh Deosaran meanwhile said there is a “vigilante justice syndrome” which has emerged because people are living “with a great fear of crime” and they believe there has been an “inadequate treatment of crime across the country.”

As a result, Deosaran said people feel they “have to respond violently to persons they suspect or see committing a crime, sometimes you would not wait to see something happen, as long as there is a probability of something happening people would respond.”

Declaring that the country is on a “slippery slope,” Deosaran said the Police Manpower Audit which was presented to the Government last year sought to address deficiencies there might be in terms of police vehicles to respond or manpower shortages which prevent a proper response to citizens’ complaints.

As chair of that committee, Deosaran said he could not tell Government what to do, but said the poor response of the police to citizens’ reports “is the genesis of vigilante justice, and while you can say it should not be mob justice, you have to understand what created the mob mentality and there are ways to deal with this institutionally.”

The best way to deal with vigilante justice, he said, is “having police respond to citizen’s complaints in a timely manner, with quick arrests and prosecutions.”

In the case of Mc Hutchinson, Deosaran said the man “was a suspect and had not committed a crime. Vigilante Justice was not required here.”

Another criminologist Daurius Figueira admitted that a vigilante act is a “challenge to the role of law, it is a challenge to the criminal justice system, it is a message to the politicians that people on the ground are totally fed up with the insecurity in their lives and the pain and dislocation that is being visited upon them by criminals and they are now intent on responding.”

But he said the problem with vigilantism is that there is no way of knowing whether the person being accused of a criminal act is, in fact, guilty.

“You playing judge, jury and executioner all in one,” Figueira said.

While people may feel they are victims and need to act, he said, there is a danger that “you, in turn, become a predator, the individuals went after the perceived predator and end up killing that person. Violence begets violence. It is a spiral that solves nothing,” Figueira cautioned. He said what is required is for law enforcement agencies and the political directorate to do what is necessary. (See Page 5)

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